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Pneumonia is a disease of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The symptoms of pneumonia closely resemble those of influenza or a cold, and sometimes are not diagnosed properly. All these symptoms are treated differently, some with antibiotics and others simply with rest. Typically pneumonia will last one to three weeks; however, some types can be deadly. Prevention is possible and generally healthy people with good hygiene do not need to worry about it as much as those with poor hygiene.


There are five main causes of pneumonia: bacteria, viruses, fungi and other infectious agents such as mycoplasmas, and various chemicals.[1] Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are the most common causes. Mycoplasma pneumonia is a mild case caused by bacteria, and is often called "walking pneumonia" because those who have it typically do not realize it. Influenza A and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are two types of viruses that can cause pneumonia. Pneumonia caused by fungi is more prevalent in people with damaged immune systems, HIV, or AIDS.[2]


Main Article: Bacteria

In adults, bacteria is the most common cause for pneumonia. [3] There are many different types of pneumonia caused by bacteria. One type, lobar pneumonia, can either develop on its own, or after catching influenza or a cold. This particular pneumonia affects a lobe, or area of the lungs. There are three examples of Atypical pneumonia, another infection caused by bacteria.

Legionelle pneumonphila which has been associated with exposure to cooling towers, whirlpool spas, and decorative fountains, has created quite a few outbreaks. Mycoplasma pneumonia mostly affects people ages forty and younger, and who live or work in crowded places such as schools, homeless shelters, and prisons. Although for some people it can be rather serious, this pneumonia is typically mild and has good results when treated with antibiotics. Clamydophila pneumonia is typical in adults ages sixty-five to seventy-nine. It occurs all year round, but is rather mild. [4]


Main Article: Virus

Viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in children. One-third of all cases in the U.S. are a result of respiratory viruses. These cases are all relatively mild; they last anywhere from one to three weeks without treatment. Some cases however can be serious and those that are, may need hospital treatment. Once someone has had viral pneumonia, they also risk getting bacterial pneumonia. The most common cause of viral pneumonia in adults is the flu virus. Other viruses include respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus, herpes simplex virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)and others.[4]


Main Article: Fungus

There are three kinds of fungi in the U.S. that cause pneumonia: coccidioidomycosis, histoplasmosis, and cryptococcus. Of those people exposed to these fungi, most do not develop pneumonia, however some do and need treatment. The serious fungal infections are found in people who have immune systems that have become weak from the use of immune system suppressing medicines, or who have HIV or AIDS.[4]

Factors that can increase the risk of getting pneumonia are:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Recent viral respiratory infection (common cold, laryngitis, influenza)
  • Difficulty swallowing (due to stroke dementia, Parkinson's disease, or other neurological conditions)
  • Chronic lung disease (COPD, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis)
  • Other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis, or diabetes mellitus)
  • Living in a nursing facility
  • Impaired consciousness (loss of brain function due to dementia, stroke, or other neurologic conditions)
  • Recent surgery or trauma
  • Immune system problem
The symptoms of pneumonia are very similar to those of influenza, and can sometimes be mistaken as such.


Pneumonia can start out as an upper respiratory infection such as influenza or a cold, and thus some of the symptoms are similar. [2] The most common symptoms of pneumonia include coughing, fever, shaking chills, and shortness of breath. Coughing can often bring up a greenish, yellowish, or even bloody mucous. [1] People suffering from pneumonia also have mild to high fevers. Shaking chills, as well as shortness of breath that accompanies daily activities, are also listed as common symptoms.[1] Additional symptoms can include:

  • Sharp stabbing pain
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating and clammy skin
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, fatigue
  • Confusion or delirium [1] [3]

Other symptoms that can also occur are:

Symptoms can also vary based on the origin of the illness (whether it is a bacterial or viral infection), as well as if the patient is an older adult or a child. Non-bacterial pneumonia symptoms come on gradually and are often less severe or obvious. "Walking pneumonia" is when the symptoms are mild and hardly noticeable. Symptoms of a bacterial infection include a temperature that may go as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, profuse sweating, and a rapidly increasing pulse rate and breathing. The lips and nailbeds may have a bluish tint to them as a result of a lack of oxygen in the blood, and the mental state of a patient may be confused or delirious.[1] The symptoms of a viral infection are very similar to influenza symptoms and pneumonia can sometimes be mistaken for the flu. Fever, dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness are all immediate symptoms. However, within twelve to thirty-six hours these symptoms can become more severe. The cough will worsen and bring up a small amount of mucous; there is an increase in breathlessness, as well as a high fever and bluish lips.[1]

For older adults, the symptoms may be different, fewer, or milder. However, major signs are: confusion or delirium, or a lung infection that worsens. [2] Children's symptoms depend on their age. If an infant is younger than a month old, the symptoms include: lethargy, eating poorly, and a fever. Older children have a cough, as well as an increased breathing rate (sixty breaths per minute). [2]


The type of treatment received for pneumonia depends entirely on what kind of pneumonia a patient has, as well as their current physical health. If it is a bacterial infection, then doctors are free to prescribe antibiotics with a reasonable expectancy that they will beat infection. Against a viral infection, most doctors recommend complete rest and plenty of fluids. There are some viruses that can be fought against by using antiviral medications. Mycoplasma pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics; however, the recovery process may take some time. Because the symptoms are so similar to a chest cold, most people do not realize they have pneumonia and do not go see a doctor. This is not usually and issue because the symptoms will often disappear by themselves. Fungus related infections can be treated with anti-fungal medications. [5]

Sometimes a doctor will recommend hospitalization while a patient being treated for pneumonia however, in most cases hospitalization is not necessary. Typically a person is more likely to go to a hospital for treatment if they:

  • Have another serious medical problem
  • Have severe symptoms
  • Are unable to care for themselves at home, or are unable to eat or drink
  • Are older than 65 or a young child
  • Have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better.[3]

If hospitalization is not needed, then there are several steps that can be taken at home to help insure recovery:

  • The drinking of plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
  • Getting lots of rest. Have someone else do household chores.
  • Not taking cough medicines without first talking to a doctor. Cough medicines may make it harder for the body to cough up the extra sputum.
  • Control fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children.[3]


There are many ways in which people can make sure they have the best chances of not getting pneumonia, some are just normal hygiene procedures such as: washing hands frequently with soap and hot water after using the bathroom, blowing the nose, or preparing food is one of the major ways to stop the spread of germs. Covering the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, as well as throwing tissues away immediately after using them, help to limit the spread of any illness. [4] A seasonal flu shot is also helpful in decreasing the risks of pneumonia. Vaccination against pneuomococcal pneumonia is recommended for anyone who is at high risk of contracting this type of pneumonia. Because pneumonia can come after other illnesses or as a complication, vaccinations for measles or chickenpox are recommended for children, as well as for adults who have not had them yet.[2] Smokers are also at a higher risk of getting an infection because the use of tobacco damages the lungs and their ability to fend off any infections. Other people high at risk include those who:

Other ways to prevent pneumonia, is to practice good health habits. This includes a healthy diet, rest, regular exercise, etc. If a person is healthy in general, then it is that much easier for their body to not only fight off infections and illnesses, but also to recover from them.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 American Lungs Association
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 WebMD
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 National Library of Medicine
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
  5. Mayo Clinic

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